App helps NSA speed-clean U.S. secret documents

When President Clinton signed a 1995 executive order to declassify government
documents after 25 years, the National Security Agency faced the task of sifting through
tens of millions of pages much earlier than it had expected.

Prior to Executive Order 12598, classified documents had to be held 50 years before NSA
would declassify them.

To comply with the new order, NSA hired Vredenburg IT Group of Reston, Va., to automate
the manual declassification process, said Jorge Diaz, a spokesman for the systems

Vredenburg IT began work on the Automated Declassification System in October 1997. By
August 1998, about 20 NSA employees and 80 retired intelligence officers recruited by
co-contractor AlliedSignal Inc. of Morristown, N.J., were using the system in full
production mode.

Since that time, NSA has declassified about 500,000 pages, NSA officials said.

The declassification system is a tailored version of the HighView Pro document
management, imaging and workflow application from Highland Technologies Inc. of Lanham,

“It’s the backbone of our ADS process,” NSA officials said.

HighView Pro is based on the Microsoft Foundation Class Library and supports all Open
Database Connectivity-compliant databases.

The application has snap-in modules for document check-in, rework, image clean-up,
indexing, routing and redaction. Highland Technologies recently upgraded all the
batch-scanning modules from 16-bit to 32-bit.

The application conforms to the Workflow Management Coalition’s industry
standards, said Carl Muller, project architect and co-founder of Highland Technologies.

Because NSA is a large user, Highland Technologies is developing a HighView Pro
duplicate-detection module to help NSA safely dispose of duplicate documents. Manual
handling of Freedom of Information Act requests has produced multiple redacted copies of
original NSA documents, Diaz said.

The client-server declassification system runs under Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0
with Service Pack 4 on three Hewlett-Packard NetServers, each with four 300-MHz Pentium
processors and 1.5G of RAM.The 57G database server hosts Oracle Corp.’s Oracle8
Release 8.05 database management system with the Oracle ConText full-text search option.

A second 57G file server stores image file indexes. A third 27G optical server powers
two HP SureStor 600FX write-once optical jukeboxes that hold a combined 1.2T.

The declassification system uses two Eastman Kodak Co. Digital Science 5500 scanners,
two Bell & Howell Document Management Products Co. Copiscan 6338 scanners, and two
Bell & Howell 1000 flatbed scanners, each connected to a Dell Computer Corp. Pentium

Declassification employees work at Dell Dimension systems with NT 4.0, 64M of RAM,
21-inch monitors and Fortezza PC Card slots. NSA uses Fortezza encryption technology,
which it developed, to digitally sign every document it declassifies.

Employees interact with the servers over a 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet LAN in a secure

A one-way firewall guards an HP NetServer that stores the newly declassified documents.
NSA officials send the declassified items to the National Archives and Records
Administration and make selected ones public on the Web at

NSA so far has declassified about 1.3 million cryptologic document pages under its Open
Door program. The agency’s site at Fort George G. Meade, Md., houses millions of
documents about information systems security and foreign intelligence.

“Historians are interested in document collections from specific periods”
such as the John F. Kennedy era, Diaz said.

Highland Technologies plans to put the electronic records management capabilities into
its core product suite. By June, HighView Pro will comply with Defense Department
Directive 5015.2, which spells out requirements for retaining and disposing of electronic

The directive “gives real structure to document management,” Diaz said.

The HighView Pro suite, priced at $750 per seat for 200 seats, uses the same underlying
code as Highland Technologies’ government-tailored, $7,000-per-seat V:EFOIA

NSA also is working with Vredenburg IT Group to add Electronic FOIA features to the
Automated Declassification System, Muller said. 

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